NORMAN — Since the BCS standings place little weight on strength of schedule, Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops is starting to join the camp that the reward of playing nonconference games against prestigious programs is small. The risk might be too great.
"It's only good if you win and you don't get your quarterback hurt," Stoops said during Monday's Big 12 teleconference. "If you lose and get your quarterback hurt like we did a year ago with Sam Bradford, then it isn't any good. In the end, that's the bottom line. It's high risk. Anymore it's fairly low reward."
Players, though, are united. They prefer playing big-name programs.
Days before the Sooners open the season against Utah State, defensive players available after Monday's practice said they prefer playing Florida State, Cincinnati and Air Force this season, playing Miami and BYU last season.
"That's why you come here," said defensive tackle Adrian Taylor. "You come here or come to Florida State or Florida so you can play the top teams. Some people are along for the ride at some schools. You come to Oklahoma because you want to play tough teams. You want to be challenged."
OU next season plays at Florida State. The Sooners have a home-and-home series with Notre Dame in 2012-13.
"The risky nonconference schedule, that's what you want," said safety Jonathan Nelson. "Why else would you be playing football? You don't play football to be walking on eggshells."
Stoops used to feel the same way.
"I don't know how much it helps you," Stoops said earlier this month. "It all gets down to if you lose one game by a point to one of those teams, and someone else plays four teams that are easy, and at the end of the year you have one more loss than they do, they're going to be ranked ahead of you."
The Sooners are a 31-point favorite against Utah State. Players said they won't look past the Aggies, but high-profile, nonconference games are one reason they signed with OU.
"If coach Stoops scheduled somebody smaller, we'd treat them the same," said defensive tackle Casey Walker. "But I'm not sure that might help us. I think it's better we play Florida State and harder teams in the preseason to know how we are going into conference."
Senior defensive end Jeremy Beal said that's one benefit to playing Florida State, Cincinnati and Air Force.
"You don't get any better if you play a cupcake schedule," Beal said. "If you play a tough nonconference, it gets you ready for the Big 12. If you win a close game in nonconference, you have that experience if you pulled one out."
This season, OU's conference opener is Texas. Some argue playing four games against overmatched opponents might not be the ideal way to prepare for the Red River Rivalry.
"Exactly," said middle linebacker Tom Wort. "We'll know how good we are going into the Texas game. I wouldn't have it any other way, knowing whoever wins that game has a leg up on winning the Big 12."
Stoops agrees that tougher nonconference opponents reveal areas that need work.
"I don't know how much it benefits you," Stoops said. "If you don't get anyone hurt, it does. If you don't get anyone hurt and you win, it definitely benefits you."
In addition to the upcoming Notre Dame series, OU has home-and-home series with Tennessee in 2014-15 and Ohio State in 2016-17.
Would Stoops like to follow other programs' approach and eliminate high-risk, low-reward nonconference games?
"I'd like to, but our schedule is made out pretty far in advance," Stoops said. "I think the next football coach here might have a better chance than me."